Chinese enclaves in the San Gabriel Valley

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San Gabriel Valley
Lightmatter Hsi Lai Temple 2.jpg
Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, second largest Buddhist temple and monastery in the Western hemisphere.
Simplified Chinese圣盖博谷
Traditional Chinese聖蓋博谷
Alternative Chinese name
Simplified Chinese圣加布里埃尔谷
Traditional Chinese聖加布里埃爾谷
Second alternative Chinese name
Simplified Chinese圣加百利谷
Traditional Chinese聖加百利谷

Chinese communities form a substantial portion of the population of the San Gabriel Valley, just east of Los Angeles, California. The region has achieved international prominence as a hub of overseas Chinese, or hua qiao.[1][2] Although Chinese immigrants were a noteworthy presence in the establishment of Southern California from the 19th century, significant Chinese migration to suburban San Gabriel Valley coincided with a trend of white out-migration from the 1970s onward.[3] This opened an opportunity for well-educated and affluent Asian Americans to begin settling in the west San Gabriel Valley, primarily to Monterey Park.[4]

High property values and overcrowding in Monterey Park[5] have contributed to a secondary movement away from that city, and the Chinese community is now spread over a cluster of cities in the west San Gabriel Valley. Suburban cities in the valley with large non-white populations, also called ethnoburbs, include Alhambra, Arcadia, Rosemead, San Marino, San Gabriel, South Pasadena, and Temple City and then eastward to Diamond Bar, Hacienda Heights, Rowland Heights, and Walnut.[1] Numerous Mandarin- and Cantonese-speaking businesses have been established in these suburbs to accommodate the changing population.


A map of San Gabriel Valley created using census data

The history of the San Gabriel Valley, like much of the American West, included Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and south Asian settlers and pioneers in the mid-19th century. These Asian settlers worked the fields of grapes, citrus fruits, and other crops. They were also involved in the construction of early infrastructure for San Gabriel Valley.[6] Due to the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, the 1942 internment of Japanese, and racial covenant laws, Asian economic and social assimilation were halted for many years. The only Asian cultural hubs were Chinatown and Little Tokyo in Downtown Los Angeles, though populations persisted elsewhere.[6]

In 1961, Alfred Song became the first Asian American elected to the California State Assembly, representing Monterey Park.[7] Since the passage of the 1965 Immigration Act, there has been an influx of some 20 million Asian immigrants to the United States[8], many of whom settled in Monterey Park due to its close proximity to Chinatown, suburban appeal, and "superior public education" to LAUSD.[6] This continued through the 1970s with the arrival of ethnic Chinese refugees from Vietnam, affluent waisheng ren Taiwanese, and Mainland Chinese.[8] By 1996, the population of Monterey Park was 65% Asian, primarily Chinese.[6][9]

Given the San Gabriel Valley's rapidly increasing population of Asian-Americans (largely Chinese-Americans), several business districts were developed to serve their needs.[9] Since the 1970s, most Chinese immigrants to Los Angeles have preferred the communities in the San Gabriel Valley rather than New Chinatown in Downtown Los Angeles[10] - as it was created by Hollywood film set designers, and seen as 'touristy'.[11] By 2000, many Chinatown residents and businesses had moved to the San Gabriel Valley.

In 1988, Monterey Park passed an ordinance declaring a moratorium on new building, in an attempt to regulate the rapid growth the city experienced as a result of the influx of Asian immigrants.[12][13] This moratorium was challenged and defeated in 1989, but it caused many Asian residents and businesses to move to the neighboring city of Alhambra, later spreading to more neighborhoods.

While these San Gabriel neighborhoods contain prominent Chinese-language signage, these communities do not feature the Chinese-style gateways, or paifang, found in the original Chinatown.

The creation of this major hub, a cultural center with many suburban cities, is an "Asian Pacific American phenomenon".[6] Rather than solely being a significant Chinese American cultural center, the area is a hub of much more extensive "multigenerational and multiethnic Asian American diversity."[6] In the 21st century, many of the ethnoburbs in the San Gabriel Valley have expanded and thrived, and are becoming increasingly diverse - as well as congested.[14][6]


Hong Kong Plaza in Rowland Heights, California

There are several suburban Chinese-oriented ethnoburbs in Southern California, including those in the San Gabriel Valley. Unlike the official Chinatown in downtown Los Angeles, these "pocket" communities are not called "Chinatown" by the Chinese community there, but generally by the name of the city. Although, Monterey Park has been called the "First Suburban Chinatown".[8]

The Asian communities in the San Gabriel Valley follow along a 25-mile (40 km) stretch of Valley Boulevard, covering the entire length of the valley with Alhambra on the west side and Diamond Bar on the east side. Asian communities in the valley extend as far north as San Marino and Arcadia and as far south as Hacienda Heights and Rowland Heights.[15]

San Gabriel has become a brand-name destination for Chinese tourists, especially in the business district around the San Gabriel Mall.[16] This tourism boom is bringing about the construction of additional hotels as many Chinese tourists prefer to rent rooms in San Gabriel, even if they plan to visit typical Southern California tourist destinations.[2]

The first generation of Chinese Americans in the area identify with 626 — the area code of much of the San Gabriel Valley. They are fluent in English but still identify with the culture of their parents. Many feel that something new has been created, such as songs mixing bits of dialect from across China with American hip-hop. The popularity of Boba, chewy tapioca pearls served in a drink of sweet tea, is a cultural touchstone of "626."[17]

Monterey Park[edit]

From the 1970s on, Taiwanese immigrants began settling in Monterey Park and the nearby communities of Alhambra, and Rosemead. The area was not too far from the Los Angeles Chinatown commercial area and was becoming a Chinese influenced community.[18] This trend included affluent Chinese professionals, mostly from Taiwan. At that time, Monterey Park was being marketed by realtors in Taiwan and Hong Kong as the "Chinese Beverly Hills," to entice future investors.[9] The crowded downtown L.A. Chinatown did not have room for the growing numbers of Chinese leaving Taiwan and Hong Kong for economic opportunities in America.[9] Other Mandarin Chinese-speaking immigrants, of the middle and working classes, from Taiwan and Mainland China later followed. Settlement in the city picked up the pace in the 1980s following opportunities created by the white flight from the San Gabriel Valley.[19] Chinese shopping centers—with supermarkets serving as anchors—were developed to serve the new residents.[19][20] As this unique phenomenon became known, Monterey Park was described as the "first suburban Chinatown" in North America, and was featured in Forbes magazine,[21] Time magazine, Los Angeles Times, and The Atlantic Monthly.[22] Monterey Park's effect on tourism in Los Angeles was featured on the "Life and Times" show on the L.A. former-PBS affiliate KCET.

Monterey Park, California

Little Taipei (Chinese: 小臺北) was an informal name given to the city of Monterey Park, California in the late 1970s because of the large immigrant population from Taiwan.[6] (Taipei is the capital city of Taiwan.) The city council had tried and failed to pass English-only sign ordinances, because of safety issues for police and fire departments. In 1985 the City Council of Monterey Park approved drafting of a proposal that would require all businesses in Monterey Park to display English language identification on business signs.[23] According to the Monterey Park Chamber of Commerce, within the city’s 7.7-square-mile (20 km2) limits, there are more than 60 Chinese restaurants, more than 50 realty companies, several Chinese supermarkets, scores of dental, medical, accounting and legal offices, and dozens of shopping centers.[12]

The Chinese American population in Monterey Park and San Gabriel Valley is relatively diverse in socioeconomics and region of origin, including overseas Chinese from Vietnam and Indonesia.[6] In Monterey Park, 61.3 percent of the population is Asian American,[21][24] In Alhambra, Arcadia, and San Gabriel, the Asian population is 48.91 percent, as of the 2000 census.[25] Montebello is also included as it has had a significant (almost 25%) Asian population for several decades after seceding from Monterey Park.[26]

San Gabriel[edit]

San Gabriel Square

The city of San Gabriel boasts a mixture of Asian, European, and North American cultures.[27] Second- and third-generation Chinese Americans patronize its diverse array of stores and eateries.[28] There is the 12-acre (49,000 m2) "San Gabriel Square" mall that has been mentioned in the Los Angeles Times as "the great mall of China."[2][29] This stretch of Chinese shops and bold architecture, with roofs of Spanish-style tile, is the model for the new ethnoburbs recently recognized in areas like the Las Vegas Valley and Houston.[27] The conglomeration of restaurants and cafes, shops, markets, hair and nail salons, Asian video stores, health services, department stores, plus an extensive jewelry mart, provides 'something for everyone', from purchasing an expensive diamond and shopping for designer suits, to buying soy milk or a travel package to Las Vegas or China.[27]


An Asian supermarket in San Gabriel Valley.

In 1992, the city of Alhambra and its southern neighbor Monterey Park jointly held the first annual Chinese new year parade and street festival. There were several conflicts and controversies with Monterey Park, so in the next few years the city of Alhambra has held the parade with its neighbor San Gabriel. The parade and festival have corporate sponsors, and several Chinese-dominant cities in San Gabriel Valley also sponsor the parade. This parade is broadcast on LA Chinese-language radio and on TV.[30] Chi Mui became the city's first Chinese American mayor in 2006.[28] The new San Gabriel Chinese aggregation served as the setting for the thriller novel The Jasmine Trade, authored by Denise Hamilton.[31]

Rowland Heights[edit]

Chinese businesses were formerly more spread out in Rowland Heights, an unincorporated area with a Chinese retail corridor on Colima Road and Nogales Street and intermixed with a Korean community. Taiwanese and Mainland Chinese, with number of ethnic Chinese from South Korea, and Vietnam, immigrant businesses, namely the eateries, banks, and offices, are gradually occupying the various strip malls across the Puente Hills Mall and in Hacienda Heights and City of Industry. The population is now 55 percent Asian.[15]

Rowland Heights remains the Chinese commercial/cultural center in East San Gabriel.[15]

Hacienda Heights[edit]

Nearby in Hacienda Heights, Hsi Lai Temple, a Buddhist temple, was built in 1988. Though the proposed development was opposed at the time by some local residents, it is now a respected and accepted part of the community, with members of the United States House of Representatives and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department often visiting during major events. The Hsi Lai Temple is the largest Buddhist temple in the Western Hemisphere.[32]

In addition to Rowland Heights and Hacienda Heights, Eastern San Gabriel Valley areas with a high percentage of Asian residents are West Covina,[33] Walnut, and Diamond Bar.

Temple City[edit]

As of the 2000 census, the racial makeup of Temple City was 38.89% Asian, that number is expected to be significantly higher in 2010 census. Along Las Tunas Boulevard, the "Bridal District" of Asian businesses along the stretch of the downtown area has made Temple City a bride's "mecca" for all wedding needs including elaborate dresses, as Asian brides often wear three gowns. Also included are several florists and lavish portrait studios supporting the Asian tradition of taking studio quality photos of the bride and groom before the wedding. Asian brides come from as far away as New York City to visit this Temple City specialty sector.[34][35]

Valley Boulevard Corridor[edit]

Valley Boulevard (former U.S. Route 60 and U.S. Route 99) is a vital and growing professional and business sector that includes many Asian markets, eateries and other service-oriented businesses such as physicians and dentists. There are multiple Asian banks and Asian owned and operated enterprises that accommodate the burgeoning Asian population.[36]

The Asian communities in the San Gabriel Valley follow along a 25-mile (40 km) stretch of Valley Boulevard covering the entire length of the San Gabriel Valley with Alhambra on the west side and Diamond Bar on the east side.[15]

Valley Boulevard begins at Lincoln Park, off North Main Street near downtown Los Angeles, about a mile northeast of the downtown Los Angeles Chinatown. From North Main Street, Valley runs east along a five-mile (8 km) stretch including large industrial tracts and the largely Hispanic community of Lincoln Heights. Midway between Chinatown, and the start of the ethnic Chinese suburbs to the east, is the Ming Ya Buddhist Temple in Lincoln Heights.

Leaving Los Angeles, Valley Boulevard enters Alhambra, the "Gateway to the San Gabriel Valley". Alhambra, which is 47% Asian according to the 2000 census, has a large number of Asian businesses along the Boulevard. This area boasts numerous noodle shops, Asian cafés, and the original Sam Woo Barbecue restaurant. The artful Wing Lung Bank features the largest glass tile mural in North America, composed of 996,000 3/4" glass tiles.[36] Each year, Alhambra and San Gabriel host one of the largest Lunar Chinese New Year celebrations in the country which includes a parade along Valley Boulevard.[37]

Continuing east are the cities of San Gabriel and Rosemead, with San Marino, Temple City and Arcadia being further north and east. These five cities have Asian populations between 40 and 55% with a large number of Asian businesses in their various town centers. As existing homes are torn down, the size and skyrocketing prices of new houses is remaking Arcadia's reputation. Homes are being constructed in Arcadia to appeal to wealthy Chinese buyers.[38]

Along Valley Boulevard in San Gabriel are dozens of Asian mini-malls and hundreds of shops and restaurants. San Gabriel Square is one of the most prominent and features a 99 Ranch Market, several shops and restaurants including specialties such as Taiwanese and Vegetarian food. This area also includes the comprehensive San Gabriel Superstore[39] which includes multiple vendors anchored by a large grocery store. Inside and outside the Superstore are found numerous vendors of Asian art, jewelry, books, videos, clothing as well as health and beauty aids. This area is known for its tofu and dumpling houses.[40]

Continuing east from Rosemead along Valley Boulevard are the largely Hispanic communities of El Monte and La Puente and large industrial tracts, including those that dominate the City of Industry. This ten-mile-long (16 km) largely industrial corridor includes many Asian owned wholesale businesses, including importers of electronics, food and furniture from Asia. North of La Puente is West Covina which is 26% Asian[41] and south of La Puente is Hacienda Heights which is 36% Asian.[15] Hacienda Heights is home to the Hsi Lai Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in the United States.[42][43] The temple encompasses 15 acres (61,000 m2) and a floor area of 102,432 sq ft (9,516.2 m2). The temple's Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 AD) and Qing Dynasty (1644–1911 AD) architecture is faithful to the traditional style of buildings, Chinese gardens, and statuary of ancient Chinese monasteries. Hsi Lai was built to serve as a spiritual and cultural center for those interested in learning Buddhism and Chinese culture.[44]

On the east side of the San Gabriel Valley, before Valley Boulevard becomes Holt Avenue in Pomona, are the communities of Hacienda Heights, Rowland Heights, Walnut and Diamond Bar.[15] These three communities each have Asian populations of between about 40 to 60%. Rowland Heights and western parts of Hacienda Heights offers its own small ethnic suburbia, such as the businesses lining Azusa Avenue, Colima Road (about one mile (1.6 km) south of Valley), Fullerton Road, Gale Avenue (about half mile south of Valley) and Nogales Street. Indoor malls in Rowland Heights feature restaurants and chic Asian boutiques.

L.A. County[edit]

Asian-American ethnoburbs can be found in the South Bay, Los Angeles and San Fernando Valley, and may include South Asians. These include are Sawtelle (West Los Angeles), San Pedro (due to its proximity to the Port of Los Angeles/Long Beach) and Pasadena, though Pasandena's historic Japantowns are no longer hubs of the Japanese American communities. The towns of Artesia, Cerritos; Gardena; Hawaiian Gardens; La Mirada; Lakewood; Long Beach; Lomita; Norwalk; Redondo Beach; Torrance and Whittier have some Asian-American neighborhoods and businesses/malls.

Similar enclaves outside L.A. County[edit]

Experts said they predict more Asian-oriented supermarkets of these types to open in other Inland cities in coming years, including Corona, California, whose Asian population jumped from 8 percent to 11 percent from 2000 to 2005.[15] Also for Rancho Cucamonga, whose Asian population rose from 6 percent in 2000 to 8 percent in 2005.[15]

Other Asian ethnoburbs in Southern California are in Orange County such as Anaheim, Buena Park, Costa Mesa, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Irvine, Laguna Beach, Laguna Niguel, La Palma, Orange and Westminster.[45][46]

Chinese and Asian-American ethnoburbs also can be found in Chino, Chino Hills, San Bernardino, Calico a section of Barstow, Fontana, Riverside, Moreno Valley, San Jacinto, Desert Hot Springs north of Palm Springs, Victorville, Loma Linda and elsewhere (I.e. the San Diego area, Bakersfield and San Luis Obispo).

Outside the Greater Los Angeles Area, Chinese ethnoburbs are also found in the San Francisco Bay Area, where ethnic Chinese populations are largely concentrated in cities of the East Bay and Santa Clara County. The most prominent Chinese ethnoburb in the region is found in the city of Milpitas, which has a population that is over 60% Asian as of the 2010 U.S. Census. Chinese-oriented shopping centers, markets, and community centers are spread around the city.[47] Other suburbs which have large Chinese populations and commercial activity include Fremont, Cupertino, San Leandro and Sunnyvale, with the former two having majority Asian American populations and the latter two with plurality Asian American populations as of the 2010 U.S. Census.


List of cities and CDP with Chinese American (Including Taiwanese American) population, according to the 2011-2015 American Community Survey and the 2010 United States Census.

City/CDP Chinese
Including Taiwanese
(2011-2015 ACS)
(2011-2015 ACS)
(2010 Census)
(2010 Census)
Alhambra 30,683 36.2 31,493 1,866
Altadena 624 1.4 728 40
Arcadia 26,229 45.6 21,744 4,846
Avocado Heights 861 5.4 433 22
Azusa 1,062 2.2 801 115
Baldwin Park 5,951 7.8 4,086 259
Bradbury 139 16.6 98 47
Charter Oak 154 1.7 224 11
Citrus 140 1.2 111 23
Claremont 2,649 7.4 1,732 317
Covina 2,012 4.1 1,453 273
Diamond Bar 15,203 26.9 12,547 3,162
Duarte 1,211 5.6 889 82
East Pasadena 1,019 16.8 842 196
East San Gabriel 6,109 38.2 4,965 809
El Monte 19,837 17.1 16,151 816
Glendora 1,314 2.6 1,207 137
Hacienda Heights 15,127 27.4 11,348 2,944
Industry 13 3.0 17 2
La Cañada Flintridge 1,252 6.1 1,260 78
La Habra Heights 563 10.4 361 60
La Puente 1,839 4.5 1,010 86
La Verne 849 2.7 707 72
Mayflower Village 1,162 21.4 903 146
Monrovia 2,623 7.1 1,605 199
Montebello 3,377 5.3 2,749 82
Monterey Park 27,244 44.6 29,537 1,233
North El Monte 1,072 26.0 869 114
Pasadena 8,848 6.3 7,316 887
Pomona 4,899 3.2 3,460 445
Rosemead 19,480 35.7 20,548 461
Rowland Heights 18,276 36.2 16,563 3,476
San Dimas 2,015 5.9 1,000 169
San Gabriel 16,893 42.0 17,137 1,009
San Marino 5,776 43.3 4,707 1,498
San Pasqual 185 9.3 206 39
Sierra Madre 744 6.7 427 27
South El Monte 1,004 5.1 1,222 33
South Pasadena 3,432 13.2 4,132 428
South San Gabriel 1,941 21.8 2,385 38
South San Jose Hills 563 2.7 566 64
Temple City 15,741 43.6 13,931 1,964
Valinda 522 2.2 645 36
Vincent 576 3.4 322 16
Walnut 10,296 34.4 9,242 2,064
West Covina 10,534 9.8 9,089 1,347
West Puente Valley 698 2.9 468 20
Whittier 965 1.1 923 103

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Reckard, E. Scott and Khouri, Andrew (March 24, 2014) "Wealthy Chinese home buyers boost suburban L.A. housing markets" Los Angeles Times
  2. ^ a b c Shyong, Frank (2014-02-12). "Chinese visitors turning San Gabriel into a boomtown". Los Angeles Times.
  3. ^ Berton, Justin (2011-01-07). "Whites in state 'below the replacement' level". The San Francisco Chronicle.
  4. ^ Horton, John. The Politics of Diversity: Immigration, Resistance, and Change in Monterey Park, California . Temple University Press, 195. p. 80.Chapter 4
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  7. ^ "Alfred H. Song, 85; Legislature's First Asian American Left Under a Cloud". Los Angeles Times. 2004-10-14. Retrieved 2019-10-12.
  8. ^ a b c Le, C.N. (Aug 20, 2008) "The History of the First Suburban Chinatown" the color line (Blog) University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Retrieved 2014-04-19
  9. ^ a b c d Oliver, Myrna (August 12, 1999) "Developer Who Saw Monterey Park as 'Chinese Beverly Hills' Dies" Los Angeles Times
  10. ^ Fong, Timothy (1994). The First Suburban Chinatown: The Remarking of Monterey Park, California. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. ISBN 1-56639-123-7.
  11. ^ Tsui, Bonnie. (2010). American Chinatown : a people's history of five neighborhoods. Free Press. ISBN 1416557245. OCLC 517275749.
  12. ^ a b Alfred Pong. "The Chinese Beverly Hills". Archived from the original on 2010-06-09. Retrieved 2010-11-11.
  13. ^ "Local News in Brief : Building Bans Imposed". Los Angeles Times. 1988-05-12. Retrieved 2019-10-13.
  14. ^ "The 1965 Immigration Act : Asian-Nation :: Asian American History, Demographics, & Issues". Asian-Nation. Retrieved 2010-11-11.
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  28. ^ a b Pierson, David (2006-03-31). "Dragon Roars in San Gabriel - Los Angeles Times". Los Angeles Times.
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  30. ^ "Cityofalhambrag". Archived from the original on 2011-07-19. Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  31. ^ Hamilton, Denise (2002). The Jasmine Trade (Eve Diamond Novels) (9780786015238): Denise Hamilton: Books. ISBN 0786015233.
  32. ^ Pan, Philip P. (1993-08-08). "Good Neighbor : Hemisphere's Largest Buddhist Temple Wins Over Residents - Los Angeles Times". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-11-11.
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  34. ^ Sanchez, Kimberly (November 9, 1996) "Trip to Temple City Comes Before a Trip Down the Aisle" Los Angeles Times
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  44. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-02-04. Retrieved 2014-11-15.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) accessed 8/22/2010
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Further reading[edit]

  • Timothy P. Fong, The First Suburban Chinatown: The Remaking of Monterey Park (Temple University Press) ISBN 1-56639-262-4